One of the worst things you can say to professional photographers is that, thanks to smartphones, we are all photographers today. They will argue that real photographic talent comes from experience and that amateurs will never replace professional when it comes to crafting meaningful visual stories. They are right, but they're also missing the point. What smartphones have done is democratise photography - for the first time since its inception in 1839, anyone can not only experience photography, but can also create and distribute on a massive scale their own images.
Photography has experienced massive changes in the last 174 years. There was the launch of the first compact rangefinder camera in the 1930s, which made it easier for people to carry a camera around. There was also the introduction of colour photography a few years later, and the popularisation of digital cameras in the late 1990s. Yet, what the smartphone is doing for photography today doesn't compare to these "revolutions".
Since 2007 and the launch of the first iPhone, large-screen, smartphones that include a camera have become a commodity. These always-on, always-connected devices, coupled with the exponential rise of social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, let us have control over who sees our photographs and when. And we're not holding back. Last year, more than 200,000 images were shared on Facebook every minute, and next year it is estimated 880 billion images will be taken worldwide. When you consider that in 174 years, we have taken around three trillion images, next year's number is staggering.
For the past three years, Apple's iPhones have dominated the list of most-used cameras on the image-sharing website Flickr, leaving behind professional digital SLRs, which used to be the tools of choice of photography enthusiasts. And that's without taking into account Samsung's popularity, due in large part to its range of Galaxy phones and cameras.
Smartphones are now everywhere. Denmark's Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt was using one when she took her "selfie" with Barack Obama and David Cameron. The first picture taken after Asiana Flight 214's crashed in San Francisco was also made with a smartphone. And even renowned photographers are now using the tool for serious journalistic work - one of them was just accepted into Magnum Photos, the prestigious photo agency. Just last week, I was interviewing the Associated Press photographer David Guttenfelder for FLTR, a new weekly magazine about smartphone photography, asking him why he chose the iPhone to document life inside the reclusive country of North Korea. "What attracted me is was the possibility to do my own thing," he told me. "When you are expected to hit the news every day, it's always good to have your own thing that no one is waiting for, that you can develop yourself, to find your own voice. The phone is perfect tool for photographing things you would usually not photograph for the Associated Press. But they are important pieces of the overall picture of a place. It's a diary for me, but it becomes an important part of the story."
These smartphones are here to stay. As Stephen Mayes, the former director at VII Photo, an agency of photojournalists, wrote last year: "Six billion mobile subscribers are transforming the meaning of the photographic image. The smartphone is not just another camera; it's changing our understanding of what a camera does and helping redefine our social structures."
They are helping produce an impressive stream of images, documenting our lives like never before (to the delight, I'm sure, of future historians) all the while making all of us, day by day, photo after photo, a little more visually cultured and enriched, and this can only be beneficial to all photographers, especially professional.